Smuggler’s Blues, part 3 : The Asset
A few weeks after his indictment, Morales was approached (or approached, depending upon the story being heard) in South Florida by Contra leaders interested in the overthrow of the Sandanista government of Nicaragua. By that time the U.S. had already publicly divested itself – after repeated human rights travesties committed by Contras — of any avowed interest in that subversion.
As we all know, what is said in public is not necessarily indicative of private intentions.
Marta Healy, a Nicaraguan exile and widowed wife of one of Morales’ pilots, arranged a meeting between Morales and Contra rebels Octaviano Cesar and Marcos Aguado at her Miami home. The Contra leaders, who Morales purports to have known to be agents of the C.I.A., offered to make Morales’ legal problems “go away.” All they wished from him was certain, but specific, “aid” to their cause.
When Morales suggested that he was not without sympathy for the anti-communist cause, a deal was struck. In exchange for freedom, Morales promised to donate planes, guns, helicopters and training for at least two pilots, and $200,000 per month.
One signature bond, one clandestine meeting, and two years later, Morales won his third world championship. Morales could not have known such a feat would become a sidebar in his story.
Smart money would suggest that Morales, a known drug smuggler and famous power boat racer whose bank account was locked down by the federal government, had not the resources to deliver on such a promise. But deliver he did. He delivered and delivered and delivered.
Over the next 18 months, Morales piloted planes loaded with weapons bought in Miami gun shops to Costa Rica and El Salvador from Florida. At some point he trained accomplices to fly the routes. He donated cash, helicopters, and planes. In one trip he donated a C-47, two crated helicopters, and cash.
During those 18 months, Morales had acquired liquid assets.
He had also acquired a certain invisibility in the form of a CIA-enhanced cover. Perhaps best of all, he had also acquired a flush, secure, drug connection. As part of his “bargain,” Morales was hauling back to the U.S. duffle bags stuffed with cocaine or bales of marijuana, or both. His CIA “operatives” had, they claimed, cleared that part of the deal with their handlers.
Morales eventually expressed concern that his frequent flier miles would attract the attention of Customs and/or the DEA. He was assured by Aguado that the plane would be safe. On one flight he landed at a military airfield – with hundreds of pounds of cocaine on board — after he was assured that his new friends had taken care of the security arrangements. They further assured that they had received the “OK” from the C.I.A. to accept weapons, cash, and, later, planes and a helicopter from a purported drug dealer.
He landed, taxied to stop, and was guided to a secure hangar. The cover story was that his was a hastily arranged mission and landing.
Assets? He was invisible with secure loads! Not even such a determined and wily foe as Sonny Crockett could hinder him!
Now, those are assets! And he no longer had to use his super power boat as a mule on steroids. Off-load into a truck, move, and distribute.
On weekends he raced power boats.
Still, there was that pesky obligation of buying guns and delivering the funds to fight the Contra war. Even an invisible man’s personal, off shore, resources can be stretched to the limit.
What he didn’t know then is that Oliver North, a man of limited public resource but boundless imagination, was in the shadows. It was Lt. Colonel North’s commission to provide covert aid to the Contras.
Smuggler’s Blues: Conclusion
George Morales, power boat champion and man about Miami, world speed record holder and millionaire drug smuggler, was beginning to understand the expense of war. He was, at the same time, beginning to understand that he was simply a rented mule in this Contra supply operation.
Morales understood that, in order to uphold his end of the bargain, in order to have his indictment for smuggling “go away,” he would have to divert the profits from his robust cocaine and marijuana trade to “the cause.” And so he did.
Morales or his trainees delivered equipment and money, received drugs in exchange, distributed the drugs, purchased more supplies, and continued the cycle.
By the end of 1985 Morales had donated supplies, machinery and arms worth millions of dollars to the Contras. He had trained Contra pilots to perform the same tasks. And, in November, he had won yet another World Offshore Super Power Boat Championship. By any measure, he seemed to have fulfilled his promise to the Contras and should be looking forward to the peaceful dreams of an unburdened man. Or, at least, to the straw bed of an unbridled mule. And maybe some alfalfa.
An ordinary story, a story simply told, would end here. It had its twists, it had turns, it had a fall.
But no. This story is not as simple as that. In this story, in reality, Morales’ venture into Dali’s rendition of hell had just begun.
If Morales believed that his handlers were connected to the CIA and that he, by extension, was being handled by the CIA, he would not have had to do much research to discover that Lt. Col. Oliver North was holding the reins. North was, at the time, employed in a tactical role by the National Security Agency, whose efforts were overseen by the CIA in the person of one William Casey, Director.
If Morales believed this, then he knew late in 1985 that he was about to lose his cloak of invisibility.
The first U.S. report linking Contras to drugs came in a Dec. 20, 1985, Associated Press (AP) dispatch by Robert Parry and Brian Barger. They wrote that U.S. and Costa Rican law enforcement officials and American Contra supporters told them Nicaraguan rebels in Costa Rica were financing their war through cocaine smuggling.
The story also cited a secret CIA report that the Contra army ARDE had used cocaine profits to buy $250,000 in arms.
North’s response to that and subsequent articles was to fire up his industrial strength shredder.
Morales would have no response, as his personal funds were frozen. After having contributed or raised $35 million dollars for the cause, he was left with trust in one pocket and faith in the other. Neither denomination was a liquid asset. He was left to his trust in his contacts and faith in his handler to fulfill their promises to him.
North was still feeding the shredder.
And so it was that Morales’ ties to the Contras were severed in January of 1986 after one more cocaine flight to the Bahamas. He was indicted a second time in June of 1986, for that flight.
So much for trust and faith. North was still shredding.
Prosecutors again busied themselves preparing to “flip” Morales, but he refused to cooperate. It seems his sense of honor (or perhaps it was fear for his life, but why quibble?) would prevent him from implicating associates. “I’m not willing to testify against no one,” he told a federal judge at his sentencing. “I have my principles, you know.”
While that remark is certain to have raised eyebrows and provoked wry smiles from prosecutors, Morales refused to “flip” and eventually pleaded guilty to smuggling some 3000 pounds of cocaine into the U.S.
But of course the story doesn’t end there. No-sir-ee Bob! As we know, power boats don’t just flip, they flop, too. And they fly.
North never got around to shredding some 2,800 pages of personal notes. One notation featured the information that $14 million to finance his mission came from drugs. That note would drop jaws on Capitol Hill, but don’t ask North about that note. His memory seems a bit fuzzy.
Cesar visited Morales in jail to assure him that, though it would be expensive, Cesar would take care of things. But things didn’t get taken care of. Boats do flip.
At this stage of his career, Morales might have considered he was done. But he wasn’t.
Morales’ defense team got creative. They summoned Vice President George Bush, CIA Director William Casey, Secretary of State George Shultz, and others to testify that Morales was toiling in the service of his country. Those esteemed witnesses would, of course, not appear. Boats do flop.
It was only after Morales was convicted and sentenced to 16 years, years that were not likely to be served at Club Fed, and that he was convinced he was left hanging like laundry in the breeze, that Morales offered to talk. And talk he did.
Morales talked so much he could have been elected to office. With a blond wig he might have been mistaken for Joan Rivers.
Morales’ name litters documents from the DEA Intelligence Section’s debriefing to Sen. John Kerry’s investigation to the Department of Justice’s inquiry. While his information proved useful to the DEA, he apparently gave up nothing damning concerning the CIA that anyone believed. He was, after all, a known and notorious drug dealer with a very personal agenda and a taste for the high life.
Morales’ sentence was reduced to seven years, of which he served four before being released on parole in December of 1991.
But that’s not the end of the story. No. There are some loose ends, some laundry needing attention.
* Lt. Colonel North was fired, in 1987, by President Reagan. He later received a judicial rap on the knuckles, then a vacation of any convictions. He ran in 1994 for a Senate seat in Virginia.
* Marta Healey was the ex-wife of Adolfo “Popo” Chamorro, the second in command to Eden Pastora in the Contras’ southern front. As Popo was present in several meetings with Morales, and as North was directing the covert U.S. effort to assist the Contras, it is almost inconceivable that Chamorro and North were unaware of what the other was doing in regards to financing the rebellion.
* Morales, after serving his reduced sentence, walked out of the prison gates and supposedly fled to Columbia.
Boats do fly.
Or do they?
* According to the grapevine, the power boat racing champion died in an auto accident a few months after relocating. The grapevine is the only source for that information. Another grapevine suggests that he slipped on soap in the prison shower and died. Google George Morales and decide for yourself what might have been his fate.
* Here is a fascinating paper trail from the National Security Archives of George Washington University tracing the funding of the Contras all the way to the top.
* Lt. Colonel North and several associates deemed complicit were banned for life from Costa Rica, which democracy was insulted to unknowingly serve as a staging area for many of these flights.
Barred from Costa Rica along with North were Maj. Gen. Richard Secord, former National Security Advisor John Poindexter, former US Ambassador to Costa Rica, Lewis Tambs, and former CIA station chief in Costa Rica, Joseph Fernandez.
* Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion — Gary Webb was a Pulitzer award winning investigative journalist for the San Jose Mercury News before, in 1996, he ran an in depth story about the crack epidemic in California and its origins in the Contra affair. The story was not dissimilar – drugs for money to further the cause — to the story of Morales, except the scope and ramifications were far greater. Webb’s story was almost immediately lambasted as poorly sourced conspiracy theory by the big three – The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. (More on that here)
Subsequent to that hail of criticism, Webb was reassigned to a suburban branch of the paper 150 miles away. He resigned in 1997 and took a job as a consultant for the California Assembly Speaker’s office, from which he and other staffers were laid off with the arrival of a new speaker. He then found work with the Sacramento News and Review.
On December 10, 2004, he was found dead in his home. According to the coroner he had been shot in the head. Twice. County Coroner Robert Lyons determined that it was suicide.